Friday, April 29, 2016

Everyone Wants to Be a Superhero- Shakin Bones

  Swinging on your belly! Flying like superman!
Everyone wants to be a superhero! Here, at Child Central Station we embrace super hero play, and we define it broadly:
Any powerful play where children pretend to be someone or something else.
Heroes are everywhere, not just on the big screen or from television shows. Moms and dads are prime examples of powerful heroes and many of the children engage in playing house and taking care of the babies. Additionally, children often dress up and pretend to be doctors or fire fighters. These heroes are prevalent in our program as well, as children are often doing their best to "save the day!"

Some of the powerful make believe play also revolves around "bad guys" and "super villians" and most often "monsters" and "witches." Children work through their world via play, so it only makes sense that they also bring the "bad guys" into the picture. It gives them an opportunity to work out social situations and deal with the dichotomy of good and evil.

Dan Hodgins and I, discuss super hero play in episode 5 of the Shakin' Bones Podcast. If you have not listened to it yet and would like to, Here it is! (Click on Episodes and choose episode #5 Superheroes. Please note this episode has some interference, but the sound quality does get better with later episodes!)

 I had such a difficult time chosing which photos to share with you in this post. Super hero play happens on a daily basis! Here are a few shots highlighting a couple of our favorite kinds of props!
Hooded bath towels make fantastic capes. I know some people worry about chocking with capes, especially with younger children and these hooded towels eliminate that fear/risk. They come in all kinds of varieties. Sometimes the children use them as the character they are intended to be, and sometimes they are just capes!

Pool noodles are awesome! In addition to being great swords, they also make great "ropes" as seen in this photo. HOLD ON TIGHT! I'll save you!

These capes pictured above were found at our Dollar Tree. They are awesome. Super simple, attach with velcro and we have an abundance of them so that that everyone can be a superhero!
How do you promote super hero play in your program? I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, April 25, 2016

"Loppers!" - Using Real Tools

We have been on a journey to provide more real experiences for children. More opportunities to do real work.  More access and use of real tools.  Lately, one of the tools of choice have been loppers!



The children have spent hours chopping up the various Christmas trees we "planted" in the play area this winter. The trees have been used as loose parts and made a small forest for the children to play in. Now that the snow has melted and the trees have begun to brown, some of the children have decided that it is time to chop them up.

I love to watch their facial expressions while they work.  The looks of determination as they struggle to push the handles together and the triumph of a successful chop.


For some children, a turn with the loppers takes a very long time and for others, the activity is short lived. We don't force "sharing" here, so a child can take as long as a turn as they would like before allowing the next child who waits to have a turn. This time around, I heard a lot of children saying... "Wow, they are taking a really long turn. I am going to to take a really long turn too." They would come close enough to see what was going on and wait to see if it was almost their turn to try them out and run off to find something else to do while they waited.
Do the children in your program use loppers? If you're interested in purchasing some, these are the ones we have (affiliate link):

I'd love to hear more about your children's experiences with real tools! Leave me a comment or find me on Facebook!

Friday, April 22, 2016

Can Your Child Wipe Their Own Butt? Kindergarten Readiness: Shakin' Bones

Why are we spending so much time focusing on Kindergarten Readiness? Why are we rushing childhood and trying to get children ready for the "next" instead of being present and accepting children where they are? Why are we not trusting play when the research clearly states young children learn and thrive through play?
I guess I can understand to a point, parents want the best for their children and they want them to be successful. However, I am really concerned in regard to the focus on "readiness" and the push down of academics that keeps happening for young children. The research keeps reiterating that children learn through play, and that earlier pushes for academics have long term negative consequences, yet we continue to have unrealistic academic expectations for young children. (There is an article in Psychology Today that discusses the harmful effects of early academics you can access by clicking here). The system is broken, but you have a choice.
"Show and Tell" in my kindergarten class.
Michael Leeman from the Roseville Community Preschool talks about re-framing our question. Rather than asking "Is my child ready for kindergarten?" we could ask "Is my child done with this preschool?" In many countries children are not placed into a formal education setting until they are seven years of age. Did you know that kindergarten is not mandatory in many states? This means that you have a choice, if you don't feel like a setting is appropriate for your child you do not have to settle. There are many options including opting to wait a year before enrolling your child. There are additional options with private schools, charter schools,  homeschool or to enroll in public school at home. (Regulations and options vary from state to state).
I think the most important things I can do to help children is to truly trust them, and to truly embrace and know that play is what the young children in my program need to thrive. Through play all is possible. Children are developing a strong sense of self, they are working out problems and developing their social skills. They are developing a love of learning and gaining personal power. It is not so much "what" they are learning, but most importantly they are investigating how to learn.  By facilitating an environment where children can play, I am not only helping them to be "ready" for school, but ultimately giving them an opportunity to thrive throughout life.
Dan Hodgins and I discussed this very topic in the fourth episode of The Shakin' Bones podcast. If you have not listened to it yet and would like to, Here it is! (Click on Episodes and choose episode #4 Kindergarten Readiness. Please note this episode has some interference, but the sound quality does get better with later episodes!)

The bottom line (pun intended) is that the most important skills you can work on with your child prior to kindergarten are life skills. Things like self-care and developing a strong sense of self are important for starting school and basic human survival! These skills are not only helpful for your child, but also make the job of a kindergarten teacher with a larger number of students much easier!
Do you have any thoughts on Kindergarten Readiness??? I would love to hear from you!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

"A House of Sticks"

The snow appears to have vacated the yard. (At least for the time being!) The children were quite excited to find the pile of Sticks that was covered by the snow and have been spending time making a house of sticks! 


The story of the 3 little pigs has been popular for quite some time. It has been a daily request, often multiple times a day, so upon discovering our giant pile of sticks it made perfect sense that the children "piggies" decided to build their house of sticks.

The children found it easy to push some of the sticks into the dirt. At other times they dug holes and then buried the bottom of the sticks.

It has been an ongoing project for a couple of days. I am not sure what the next step will be, or if the house is now complete. We will have to wait and see!

Oh, and I almost forgot!! All of that digging in the dirt lead to some worm discoveries too!!!


Friday, April 15, 2016

"Ma'am Your Monkey's Dead!" Shakin' Bones: Death


"Five little monkeys jumping on the bed. One fell off and bumped his head. Momma called the doctor, and the doctor said.... Ma'am your monkey's dead!"
The children were singing five little monkeys a few weeks back and one of them decided to create their own version. The new lyrics were finished with some giggles, and sparked a matter of fact conversation.  Many of the children in our program have experienced a death in their family (grandparent or great grandparent) or a death of a pet in the last year.  Death is one of those topics that can be hard to talk about, but like all things, children tend to work through those tough topics with play! During this particular conversation, the children stopped playing and had a serious talk. One child said... "Well, maybe the monkey broke his hip like my Nana." Another child chimed in with "maybe the monkey was just really, really sick." Children are very observant, they know more than we often give them credit for. Death is a part of life, and is a topic that can be difficult to talk about, but the more natural we approach the topic, the more children understand.
Dan Hodgins and I talked about death in the third episode of The Shakin' Bones podcast. If you have not listened to it yet and would like to, Here it is! (Click on Episodes and choose episode #3 Death).



Some of the ways that the children work through death here is by playing dead. The children are often pretending to die and other children often assist in their burials. In the wintertime, they bury each other in the snow. In the summer, our large sandbox is often home to numerous funerals. Dan mentioned in the podcast, we often set up dramatic play areas for the children, and having a funeral parlor or cemetery may be just as important as setting up a grocery store. Children work through their feelings and practice rituals through play.  We don't have specific areas set up for dramatic play here at Child Central Station; the children define and create their own spaces while playing.  Through their play, the children also take on care taking roles, as they pretend to be doctors and nurses.  It is almost a daily occurrence for the children to pretend to be sick or dying.

Please remember that when talking about death with young children that they are very egocentric and concrete learners. When they ask questions or are faced with the death of a loved one or pet, be direct. Use the term death, or died. When you say things like passed away or we have even heard in some cases "sleeping" it is confusing to the children. Also, talking about death in terms of what people can and cannot do. Someone who is dead cannot eat, they cannot sleep, they cannot poop... normal activities that are typical for children. Often times, children are most concerned about death in terms of "am I going to die?" One of the things Dan mentions in the podcast is teaching children to learn to feel/listen to their own heart beat. It gives them immediate reassurance that they are not going to die right now.
Every child, every person deals with grief and loss differently and on their own timelines. Children may just need to know that you are there for them and need a lap to sit on.  Feelings are often difficult to express, and not all children have the words to describe how they are feeling all of the time. Children who are experiencing a loss may have some behavior changes.
There are a number of great books out there that you can make a regular part of your child's library. Here are the ones we discussed during the podcast. (Books are best BEFORE a death happens and help lay a foundation for later discussion.) Please note these are affiliate links:










Do the children in your program pretend to be dead or dying? Do you have any great resources for children and families? I would love to hear about them !

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Mud Paint House

You're probably confused as to how I have a post with all kinds of snow and then days later have a post with mud... and grass... and then have a post with more snow... Well, welcome to Upper Michigan! This time of year can be super unpredictable with the weather. This year in particular we had an early thaw.. and much of the sandbox and grass has been showing! However.. that doesn't stop the snowflakes from falling! Each morning/day is a new surprise as we are uncertain what mother nature has in store! The other day, it was "warm" (in the mid to upper 40s Farenheit), with a chilly breeze, but we had a lovely patch of mud on the hill!

As you can see, there are various patches of mud among the various patches of  snow :). This was a lovely patch of mud for oozing between your fingers, but it was still a little chilly on your fingers... So most of the children decided to explore it with their mittens. It wasn't long before some of the children decided that our plastic tree house needed to be painted....

The children carried mud back and forth from the puddle to the house. Most of them using their mittens as paintbrushes... They worked to cover the house both inside and out with a a fresh coat of "paint."

There was a lot of team work and cooperation happening. The house was just big enough for most of the children to have some space to work. Almost all of the children opted to use their mittens/gloves as paint brushes, but for those who did not... they carried small scoops of mud over to the house and just dumped the mud right on the side and watched it ooze right on down :).

The children worked on this task for much of the afternoon, having to stop primarily because it was time to go home. The next day.....

They came to find that the house was STILL painted! There was so much excitement over the fact that the mud which was now dry and hardened into dirt was still on the house. (We adults knew better than to clean it!) Painting on the second day was a bit more challenging as it was a colder day and patches of mud were harder (but not impossible) to find....

The third day of painting was much warmer and sunnier again! The children continued on their mission of painting the house.
This week, there has not been much going on with the treehouse.. mother nature has been as unpredictably predictable as ever... It has been raining! I wonder what will come next? Will the children be as interested in continuing the mud paint when they have to start all over? Are they even still interested in painting with the mud? I wonder if a adding some other kinds of brushes to the space would be appropriate? (or am I making this more complicated than it needs to be?... Maybe I need to let them explore on their own and wait for them to ask for what they need......)
Have your children been painting with mud? It was interesting to see that as soon as I posted a photo from one of the days on my Facebook page.. another provider shared a photo of a child who opted to paint with mud in her program the very same day!
I'd love to hear about your mudpaint adventures!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Mining for Gems

It is no secret that we like to spend a lot of time outside. This winter the children have really enjoyed painting the snow. I know I have shared numerous posts in the past in regard to the various ways that we like to paint this snow. This year paint seemed to be requested far more frequently and the paint of choice has been watered down tempera. The beauty of this paint versus some of the other choices we have used in the past is how vivid it is, and how long the snow holds the color, even when it is covered up by inches of fresh snow!

The children found the "gems" by accident after a fresh snowfall..... We have lots of shovels in various sizes and a small "yooper scoop." After one child stumbled across a colored chunk of hardened snow, the "gem rush" was on. Where could we find more gems? How did they get there? Why were some big, and some small? and How did we get so many different colored gems in the yard?

Without any prompting... there were claims to various sections of the yard.
"You dig there! I'll dig here! Hey... that's my spot to dig!"
And of course, children found various places to hide or save their loot as well... One of the children was more enthusiastic about the hunt than most of the others and after awhile, they deemed all of the gems to belong to her.  As gems were excavated, they were promptly delivered and stored near our mudpie/snow cake kitchen. 

The children used the gems as treasures and they were closely guarded. After a few days, the gems were used as props for all kinds of different things... They made the perfect wintertime loose part!

Do your children like to paint the snow? Have they ever dug up their art as "gems" days later? I'd love to hear about your experiences with snow painting too! Leave me a comment here or hop on over and find me on Facebook!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Why We are NOT Cleaning Up!


Real play is messy. Children NEED to find all of the "stuff" they want/need for their play. They need to move(transport) stuff and the only timeline they follow is their own. The photos posted of immaculate, clean classrooms are not "real"... they don't capture the true essence of what childhood play is. Because let's face it. .. real play is messy.
When children are truly engaged and have delved deep into play, the very last thing on their minds is how tidy the room looks. Our perspective of beauty and mess can be very different from that of a child. Our space often looks like a tornado came through with clear evidence and remnants of play. Random piles of favorite things stashed and mountains of "play piles" or residue abounds.

The truly important work of children is play and discovery, not tidy and clean up. Clean Up time is not the most important time of day. It can often be the most challenging time of day for teachers. It becomes a power struggle, and a serious source of frustration. Children are not always done and we are asking them to stop and to completely change their world of play, and why?
A lot of the time we don't clean up. We have very few transitions in our day, but when we do, sometimes the children are just not done. So, we leave whatever they were playing and give them the opportunity to come back to it. If we really truly value children's play, and we really truly respect their investigations we allow them to come back and to pick-up or revisit right where they left off.  When children can pick up where they left things, they can delve even deeper and develop more complex play. If we are constantly cleaning up and having to start over, the children may only scratch the surface in their play, especially if they do not have a long enough period of time. I like to think about it this way... As an adult when you are working on something, let's say writing a letter. If you start it and do not have enough time to finish it in on sitting, you don't scrap the whole thing and start over. You save what you have done and you come back to it. So, why do we expect children to clean up and start all over again?

Young children may not be developmentally ready to clean up. They are really good at dumping and taking things out, but putting things away is a different task, and requires a different skill set. The expectations we have for them may not be appropriate.
So, clearly there are times when it is necessary to clean up. How do we handle that here? Well, sometimes we ask the children to help. We know that some children will and some children generally don't. (and that is okay!)  Most of the time, the adults do the cleaning. Generally when I start to clean up, a few children will opt to help me. On very rare occasions everyone will help. Sometimes we just bulldoze the mess out of the way and I deal with it later. If there is a plan and an amazing idea/learning opportunity that is being proposed and we need the space, the plan takes priority over the mess!

A pile we "bulldozed" to the side to make room for more play.

Unfortunately, we have a limited amount of space, which means that the children nap where we play. This means that the area needs to be cleaned prior to naps. Most often, the cleaning happens primarily by an adult while the children are eating lunch. (In our program we have 2 adults and up to 12 children on any given day. One adult assists with lunch while the other cleans and sets up for nap). When there are amazing structures, forts, or other pieces of play the children are highly engaged with, we try to take photos and sometimes even move them or sleep around them. Otherwise out of necessity, the remnants of play are returned to the shelves.
Dan Hodgins and I discussed this very topic in the second episode of The Shakin' Bones podcast. If you have not listened to it yet and would like to, Here it is! (Click on Episodes and choose episode #2 Clean Up).

How do you handle clean-up? Where do you find the balance between clean up and play/exploration? I'd love to hear from you! Feel free to comment below or hop on over to my Facebook page and join the conversation.

It Wasn't Peek-A-Boo, Respecting Infants at Play

Last week, a colleague of mine asked, "What does a child-led, play based program look like for infants and toddlers?" For man...